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Growing Food Permaculture Resources Videos

Lawton’s Guide To Permaculture Design and Strategy

Here’s another 5 part series which demonstrates the diversity of considerations which lead to diversity of crops and foods in permaculture forest-gardens. At least watch the last two parts for a system overview and tour of an actual eco-system which demonstrates the concepts described in the first three parts.

 

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Growing Food Permaculture Resources Videos

Sepp Holzer – Terraces & Raised Beds

If you start inquiring about permaculture you are bound to run into Sepp Holzer – an Austrian farmer that has been evolutionazing farming for over 40 years. Also, if you start inquiring about permaculture you may, like I still am, feel lost and detached. On the one hand permaculture is a common-sense approach that works with nature, on the other hand it is a vast and intricate web of knowledge and best practices which I have a feeling can best be taken on through years and years of practice.

To me the challenge in making sense of permaculture was where to start. The first step is (by now) obvious to us – observing our land and seeing it’s natural potential and qualities. The next step has been gradually appearing. Though we want to quickly reach personal sustainability (growing our own food) it has become clear to us that we first need to rejuvenate and revive the land (which has been plowed and harvested for many years). But how to do that? Today I found, in a seriese of videos with Sepp Holzer, what looks like the most promising and actionable step in achieving that – terraces and raised beds.

This last video is less about terraces and raised beds and more about logistic, financial and social aspects of Holzer’s work:

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Forest Gardens Growing Food Permaculture

Visiting Malin Hermitage

On the last weekend of March we finally got to visit Malin Hermitage run by Philippe & Adriana. We went for a first of a series of educational & social weekends organized by EcoRuralis that will be taking place there. I gladly accepted an invitation to come and teach Yoga there. We wanted to see the place a few weeks ago while we were searching for land but didn’t get around to it because Mociu appeared in our lives.

The place was cold – too cold – a recurring problem in Romania and an inspiration for us as we hope to demonstrate that better living can be achieved with hemp-lime construction. Though it wasn’t as cold outside as the freezing winter months it was still cold. We slept in sleeping bags on beds in an attic room (you can see the entry to it at the top-right of the image above). When we left the room in the morning it was colder inside then it was outside. It’s a shame that this was a dominant part of our experience – but there it is.

It was spectacular to be on a farm so close to nature and far from a city. There are no phones (lines or cellular) and no electricity  – at night we sat by kerosene lamps. In this “natural” setting nature has both an awesome and obvious presence – it is a huge deal and no big deal at the same time. On Saturday I also witnessed my first Romanian spring rain – it arrived very suddenly and it poured loads of water on us. Water is an amazing natural resource here, which, together with plentiful land makes this country a rich and promising place!

We arrived on friday just after dark – and this is what we woke up to the following day.

Donkeys are the main working animal on the farm

And when they are eating the fresh spring grass they don’t make great conversation and don’t care to be disturbed. This donkey stopped eating long enough to signal Andreea to leave him alone.

The property has two streams running on it. They had a soft flow and according to Philippe they can dry out during peak summer (doesn’t look like enough flow to effectively create hydro-electricity – at least not at this time of year).

Apparently Romanian farmers have an  environmentally destructive habit of clearing fields with fire. It is driven in part by laziness and in part by government regulations. When you own land in Romania you are responsible for maintaining it and not letting it grow wild. Lighting a field on fire is the easiest way to clear it. So to discourage this behavior laws were passed illegalizing the burning of land. So now, Romanian farmers light fires and run away (so as not to get caught and blamed for the fires) leaving the fires to burn out of control. Philippe’s neighbor did this and his fire burned out of control, spread onto Philippe’s land and nearly spread to the neighboring forest:

During the day we sat on the porch behind Phillipe and Adriana’s residence where we had talks and lectures:

Philippe uses old windows to create an incubation space for seeds. Phillipe digs a 60cm deep space in the ground – fills it with 40cm of donkey manure (from a composting pile kept nearby) and then 20cm of composted soil in which the seeds are planted. The manure ferments and generates heat which is locked in by the window which I am assuming also acts as a solar heater too!

A mix of donkey manure water and clay is also used to create a protective “paint” placed on tree trunks to discourage potentially damaging insects.

And despite the vast quantities of rain-water there were plentiful examples, on almost every roof, of water collection barrels using natural forces of water pressure and gravity to provide irrigation.

Finally, one of the greatest gifts of this weekend was some time I spent reading in a two-volume book about Forest Gardens – an evolutionary form of farming/gardening where a forest-like eco-system is created and planted with a diversity of perennial plants. These plants all work together naturally (as do forests) to support and complement one another in creating a low maintenance and abundant eco-system. This means no more plowing the land, no more moving fertilizers from one place to another and no more dependency on oil and fuel for growing food.

I was greatly inspired (and relieved!) by the potential of forest-gardens and it will definitely have a strong effect on the kind of agricultural work we will be doing on our land. I invite you to watch A Farm for the Future to get you started on this path. Stay tuned for plenty more as another of my major pre-conceptions about the world comes crumbling down.

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Growing Food Permaculture Resources Videos

A Farm for the Future

A series of 5 videos shedding blinding bright light on the relationship between food production and oil. Every unit of energy consumed in inustrialized food takes 10 units of mostly fossil fuel energy to create. The implications of fossil fuel depletion are reaching. Bottom line:

  1. Stop plowing fields.
  2. Less meat consumption
  3. Permaculture – agriculture  by design
  4. Extremely low maintenance forest gardens (that have the potential to feed 10 people per acre)
  5. Moving away from cereals towards nuts
  6. Reruralization – more people growing food & less people living in the city.

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Construction Growing Food Hemp Hemp

Have we found Hemp Shivs for Construction in Romania?

On Feb 23rd Andreea and I went to see some hemp. Two people sent us to Carei in the northern area of Satu-Mare where once (until ~3 years ago) there operated the last decortication (the process in which hemp fibers are separated from the wooden core which we need for construction) in Romania. It was a 5 hour train ride in each direction – and on the way there I was amused as I realized how far my life had come – I was excited to be on a 10 hour journey to see … hay!

This was also a wonderful opportunity for us to meet with Dorin Pop, a construction engineer who works with Teodor Pop of Lux Perennial. Dorin met us at the train station together with his friend and together we drove off to see hemp.

The picture below is what greeted us – deserted tanks where water used for retting (partial decompisition of the glue-like materials that holds together the fibers and the wooden core). In the background are fields where hemp was once grown. At the turn of the century in the area of Satu-Mare alone there used to be 8,000 hectares of hemp (for fiber) crop.

We met with Rodica Maxi who was the founder and owner of the decortication plant. The plant has been shut down for over 2 years, now there are just a couple of offices which are also in their last days. Rodica is one of the people responsible for recent legislation that lays out a simple legal process for acquiring license from the government to grow industrial hemp. She is looking forward to rebuilding the hemp-industry in Romania. Here is Rodica proudly showing and explaining to us abou hemp.

This image of a picture Rodica shows us standing proudly by fields of hemp seems to hold an entire history of hemp in Romania.

After a pleasant conversation we went to see the hemp. We were disappointed to find that the hemp is kept outside. A large venting pipe used to run from the plant and into this field where the leftovers from the decortication were dumped. We were surprised to learn that a form of hemp-construction has been going on in Romania for quite a while – that churches often purchased the hemp-shivs and used them as a stucco-sublayer for renovation and decorative paintings.

According to Rodica it is a pile of approximately 200 tons of hemp with about 10% fibers. This next image with people in it can give you some idea of the dimension of the pile.

We were extremely excited to be standing next to this pile of hay. This is the first time we’ve seen hemp and in such large quantities! The top layers are wet and rotted and therefor useless to us for construction though they would probably make an excellent fertilizer. But the middle layers looked very promising and we took a sample with us.

On the way home I kept playing around like a child with the material we took with us. As hours passed on the way back we realized that there may be a problem with the material. Outside is was probably frozen and therefore  looked and felt dry. But after spending some time in a sealed plastic bag it warmed up and began to sweat and a moldy smell began to form. We’ve been monitoring it for a few weeks and though visible mold has not appeared the smell is still there.

Rodica has offered us to take as much as we need at a symbolic price. It would be our responsibility to package and ship it to our land. It is a magical opportunity but we are still not sure about the reliability of the material for construction. We don’t want to build a house only to find after a couple of years that the insulation and breathability of the walls has been compromised and that they are rotting.

Stay tuned for more 🙂

Categories
Construction Growing Food Hemp Hemp Research Resources

Self Grown Hemp for Construction

Wouldn’t it be ideal if you could grown your own hemp and then use it to build your home? 1 or 2 hectares of hemp stalk is potentially all you need to harvest enough building materials to build a house. Imagine that – growing your own house!  … but it isn’t a simple thing to do.

The hemp plant has four elements: seeds, leaves, fibers and a wooden core. The part you need for construction is the wooden core – also called the hurd or shiv. Separating it from the other elements of the plant requires effort. You need to grow the hemp, deffoliate it (remove the leaves) before harvesting, harvest or remove the seeds, harvest the stalk, let it ret (start decomposing so that the fibers can be separated from the hurd) and then decorticate it.

This finally step of decortication seems like the greatest obstacle – this is the process of separating the fiber and the wooden core. It can be done either through massive manual labor (of which I don’t yet have all the details – but it involves collecting the harvested stalks into small bales and then beating them to separate the fibers and wooden core) or in an industrial process. The indutrial process is usually designed to extract the fibers, the actual wooden shiv is simply a left over of that process.

It would be so much easier to grow your own construction hemp if decortication could be avoided – and this may be possible but my understanding is that it depends on the climate you live in. This research paper on Hemp-Concretes claims that it is possible to create hempcrete using both shives and fibers – BUT it is important to note that the research focuses on the structural aspects of the resulting hempcrete. It does not address the effect of fibers on insulation and breathability of the hempcrete.

Introduction of fiber to the hempcrete mix can cause humidity problems. When fibers are clumped together they tend to draw moisture and that is not something you want to happen in your wall. According to Steve Allin it is possible to add 5%-15% of fiber to the mix but not much more. This may be less of an issue in a hot and dry climate – but otherwise the risk seems unwarranted.

Maybe when the hemp industry matures it will be possible to cultivate stalks with very little fiber and a massive wooden core – which could then be used in whole? For now though it seems that self-grown hemp is not a feasibly reliable option for construction unless you have the means to decorticate it.

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Growing Food Hemp

Evolution of Hemp Processing – A Story in Images

I came across this PDF presentation on the European Indutrial Hemp Association website – it has some great and educational images in it on the evolution of hemp processing.

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Agriculture Links Agriculture Links Hemp Construction Construction Links Growing Food Hemp Europe Links Links Organizations Resources

European Industrial Hemp Association

http://www.eiha.org/

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Growing Food Hemp

What About Growing Hemp?

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Growing Food Hemp

What Happened to Hemp in Romania?

Hemp is currently our preferred method of construction so naturally we are looking around to see where we can find it. Eventually we also hope to grow it for personal uses for food, oil, fibers and to provide building materials for other Romanians who may wish to build with Hemp.

Here is what we know:

  1. There used to be a promising Hemp industry in Romania – very little remains of it.
  2. The soil and moisture conditions in Romania are excellent for growing hemp.
  3. We tried contacting Advantages (hemp naufacturer from Timisioara) and were told they no longer exist.
  4. There is an impressive international! Romanian company in Solanta called Canah that manufacture wonderful hemp-based food-products.
  5. Though they would like to rely on local (Romanian) supply Canah imports most of its raw materials.
  6. It is (theoretically) possible to grow hemp in Romania – for which you need an approval in advance and additional monitoring while you grow and harvest the crop.
  7. Every year, just before Christmas, hemp seeds appear in Romanian markets – they are used to bake a traditional holiday-cake – it is unclear where these hemp-seeds come from (one speculative theory is that it comes from Moldova).

One of the (numerous) ecological aspects of hemp is that it can be grown (and processed) close to where it is actually needed. This reduces the need to transport it across great distances. Transporting it leads to carbon emissions which defeat it’s ecological benefits. We are making an effort to find a Romanian farmer from whom we can purchase the hemp we need to build our home.

Though we will do our best to leave as little ecological damage in getting our hemp it would be an ironic-shame if we had to take our money elsewhere (Hungary, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Holland, UK, etc.).

So my question to anyone who happens to read this and know something about it is what happened to Hemp in Romania? Why was it illegalized? Why was a promising industry shut down? Who could possible havy gained from this? What can be done to fix what looks like a tragic mistake for the Romanian economy?